Shutting the door

The countries that make up the so-called Balkan route for migrants from Turkey to Europe have in a domino effect closed all their borders, thus causing a huge build-up of migrants in Greece. The countries are Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia.  Most of the migrants are now building up at the northern border with Macedonia of the the southern-most country Greece .  There is now a primitive camp of some 30,000 people at the border crossing at Idomeni, with little prospect of reaching their goal of Germany. Only refugees with legitimate papers from Syria and only those from combat areas (not for example from Damascus) are being allowed through and only a few hundred at a time.

The expectation that this would discourage other migrants from crossing the straits that separate Turkey from Greece has not so far materialized.  Greece is being inundated with desperate refugees, many of whom are economic migrants from Afghanistan and elsewhere, but who have spent all their savings on the trip to Greece.  The closing of the European borders breaks the Schengen agreement that was supposed to keep borders open within the EU.  But each of these small European countries fears being swamped and left with tens of thousands of trapped migrants, just like Greece.

The meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the EU countries with Turkey in Brussels last week came to an agreement whereby Turkey is supposed to retain these migrants and prevent them from crossing to Greece with a 3 billion euro extra payment to house and feed them in Turkey.  A NATO naval task force is now patrolling the straits in the Aegean Sea and trying to capture the people smugglers who are making money off the suffering of these poor migrants, so far with little success.  The lack of a serious agreement among the EU countries as to how to distribute these refugees among themselves is leaving Greece to handle the burden, when it is the least economically able to do so.

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